The Meaning and Practice of Self Care

Monday Author:  Susanne Skinner

Be good to yourself, self care,One year ago, the country began to feel the burn of Covid-19. Suddenly the importance of physical and psychological support took its overdue and rightful place in our priorities.

Self-care resonated in articles and organizations as an initiative to help us get through the isolation of this pandemic. Wellness of mind, body and spirit became a hot topic.

Although it feels like a millennial concept, self-care has been around for centuries. It is much more than a pedicure, yoga, and kombucha.

The History of Self-Care

Self-care has always been a part of American culture. It is often portrayed as trending and innovative, but it is roots go back to ancient Greece, where Pythagoras encouraged people take time each morning to center themselves. He believed it was essential to not meet anyone until their own soul was in order and they were composed in their intellect.

Prior to the 20th century, self-care was a societal expectation associated with affluence and privilege. Standards, like hygiene, diet, clothing, and education, were forced through the colonialism of Western society, applying these filters to determine or deny rights.

Today the term refers to activities and practices that reduce daily stresses and enhance our overall well-being. Mindful self-care includes a healthy diet, exercise, restful sleep, and consistent work-life balance.

During the past year, these practices entered mainstream media. The term headlined articles, trended on social media and became the new buzzword.

Who Said it First?

Self-care was coined in the 1950s to describe institutionalized patients. It examined how to help them cultivate a sense of self-worth through acts of care and preservation.

It gained momentum in academic circles, spreading into the medical community through the civil rights movement in the sixties. During a rally in 1966 Martin Luther King Jr. said,

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhumane.”

Civil rights leaders made health care a priority by establishing free community-service programs designed to make up for inadequate social-service programs available to people of color.

The rise of the women’s movement, coupled with civil rights, gave self-care a political focus. Women and people of color took control of  their health as a  way to make up for the failures of a white, male-dominated medical system.

Flagship programs initially focused on providing coping mechanisms against the harassment and surveillance black people suffered at the hands of the police and government.

Eventually, nationwide clinics were established to test for illness and disease found predominantly in black communities (lead poisoning and sickle-cell anemia) and offer preventive care not available through mainstream medical services.

A Shift in the Spotlight

Make time for yourself, You are important, self care, good healthThe sixties and seventies promoted a shift towards self-care, self-governance, and social justice. Studies began to focus on patients suffering the effects of emotionally stressful professions such as social work and trauma therapy. Prior to this, they centered on patients with mental illnesses and the elderly. Both required long-term care with minimal autonomy.

Real self-care begins when doctors encourage patients to share in their treatment with exercise and healthy habits. With guidance and support from other health professionals a whole health and wellness model emerged.

In 1979, in a 60 Minutes segment, Dan rather opened the program saying, “Wellness: Now there’s a word you don’t hear every day.” He went on to explain, “Wellness is really the ultimate in something called ‘self-care.”

Measuring Self Care

In the mid-eighties self-care included phrases like time management, productivity, and work-life balance, and doing more with less. Fitness and wellness lifestyles became more commercialized and associated with material comfort. Wellness programs encouraged participants to create the life they wanted through personal improvement commitments.

Around this time The World Health Organization defined self-care as:

“The ability of individuals, families and communities to promote and maintain health, prevent disease, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health-care provider.”

Three Levels of Self Care

Self care, three levels of self care, Taking care of your emotions, Taking care of your mind and thoughtsPersonal self-care happens on four levels: physical, social, mental and spiritual.

  1. Physical: Take care of your body so it recharges and runs efficiently.
  2. Social:        Socialization is important. Make time for family and friends.
  3. Mental: The way you think influences your well being
  4. Spiritual: Religion or spirituality is an important part of every lifestyle

Awareness is the key to preventing burnout, feeling balanced, and leading a productive life. Conversely, lack of awareness leads to medical issues like high blood pressure, cholesterol, and obesity.

Many medical practices now focus on managing life‐long wellness, with initiatives in mind/body well-being. There is a growing realization that personal self‐care is the starting point of all good healthcare.

Live Well

Audre Lorde’s quote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare,” underscores the importance that people deserve to not only live, but to live well.

Today people are better educated, asking for more information, choices and control over their health. This shift in taking self-care seriously focuses on individual needs and rights. Patient-centered medicine is gaining traction in health initiatives.

The most important part of living well is consistency. Build these practices into a routine already in place and follow through daily.

Self-Care is Not Selfish

You can't pour from an empty cup, Take care of yourself first, self careSelf-Care is expecting, planning, and taking the time to pay attention to basic physical, mental, and emotional needs. But many health practices are still designed to treat sickness over prevention and symptoms rather than causes.

Caring for yourself includes being present and enjoying the pleasures life offers. Your body really is your temple! Each day ask yourself: “How am I doing and what do I need?” Listen carefully and always act in your best interests.

This practice is not a selfish indulgence, it’s a daily routine for wellness. It incorporates setting priorities and boundaries. One of the challenges of 2021 is continuing to make self-care a priority once the pandemic has passed.

May we all Live Long and Prosper.